I’m a first-generation college student. I’m a woman. I’m a minority. I’m pursuing an education and career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
I did some Googling the other night. I typed in as many combinations of, “black woman in STEM blogs,” as I could. I was mostly brought to ancient blogsites that hadn’t been dusted in years. The stories were of women of all colors and shapes and disciplines. You see, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) wasn’t an acronym that was coined back then. The stories I read did not have happy endings or signs of optimism, so I kept searching. I scrolled through pages and pages of words of discouragement and hate and disgust. The passion that these women had for their STEM fields, it was there, but it wasn’t the kind of passion I envisioned. These historical women faced being ridiculed and humiliated and harassed and even killed. Killed for being interested in something. These women faced being put to death for having a mind that was seen as “equal” to a man’s. This is where their passion resonated. They were passionate enough to dismiss the screaming souls of women before them in order to explore something they loved. In Montreal, Canada, women engineers were targeted attacked simply for being women in 1989. In America, astronomer students were harassed by their professor at U.C. Berkley. Female service members who are engineers or doctors or scientists are taken advantage of. Around the world, even today, women in STEM fields are constantly preyed upon.
To add another layer to that, I live in a world where I am at the very bottom of the totem pole. I’m black. I’m a woman. I am socially placed below the white woman, the black man and the white man. In this society I am below all races and all genders.
It’s important for these things to be spoken about. I’m not the first historically underrepresented female to pursue a STEM education, especially not at St. Lawrence. We are out there, and we do not share the pressures we are under with others very often. Why is that? Well, I personally feel like most of my SLU peers wouldn’t understand, since the majority of them are white. They would feel sorry for me or try relating in ways that simply are not relatable. It’s a silent battle – one that I hope someday will end.
St. Lawrence University is a beautiful place. You’ll always hear chatter about the vibrant colors of fall and the unforgiving temperatures of winter and a home away from home. St. Lawrence offers these things, but also offers so much more. Here, you will meet the people you will stay connected with for the rest of your life. You will become a part of a family that is like no other. You will learn that Bean Boots and flannels are SLU’s clothing of choice and that you will always see a smiling face no matter where you go. But, you will also learn that everyone is different. We come from different backgrounds and have different stories to tell. We are interested in different things and pursue different goals. Some battle with things that others cannot imagine dealing with. Some prosper in places where others struggle. For example, a soccer player can maneuver their body around a ball to get it where they want it go, (maybe not know the mechanics of it all) while a soccer analyst (not so great at soccer) will be able to scientifically explain why the ball went where it did.
I not only need to out-do my male peers, but I need to continue to meet and surpass the restricting demands society places on someone like me. I want to be successful as most, if not all, would want to be. Some would argue that I have already been successful simply because I made it to an undergraduate institution. That isn’t enough. I need to graduate and either immediately start my career or continue my education. Even after going down one of those paths, it wouldn’t be enough. I am expected to, “do big things,” and, “go places,” in the eyes of society. This expectation was engrained into generations of all families, even mine. Even I expect these things for myself (big success, the American Dream). I still cannot answer the question of why I want this. I just know that I have to want success. Accomplishing those “big things” and reaching those “places,” in several lenses, helps forge the path to a better society for the future generations of black women interested in STEM fields. These are pressures that I have felt for a very long time. I’m expected to go above and beyond in order to contribute my societal share to the trust fund for the future. Failure, per se, is not an option.
One of the things that helped me the most in overcoming this cultural wall constructed of seemingly impossible constraints were the various clubs at St. Lawrence specifically for diverse students. There’s the Black Student Union and A.S.I.A., and the African Student Union and Advocates. These are places where I can talk about the differences I feel and not be judged. I can relate to black women and women and people from backgrounds similar to mine and feel like I have a brother (or sister) in arms. There’s a small percentage of us, but we always find each other. We always know that we are not alone in our battle to deconstruct the cultural divide that was construct over generations.
St. Lawrence is certainly improving their efforts to embrace all students here, but it isn’t quite there yet – the world isn’t there yet. I recognize that and others should, too. The day after the presidential election results had rang true, I felt a collective day of grieving. Students, faculty and staff were not their usual chirpy selves. Classes were blurry smears of information and even the skies displayed their emotions. I remember this day, not only because of how politics would change forever, but because I felt, for the first time ever, that everyone at SLU was in arms with me. The social totem pole was not present that day. The white man and white woman and brown man and brown woman and black man and black woman were in arms with someone with skin of my color. It was then, at St. Lawrence University, where I somehow knew that this social war that exists, would come to an end. It will happen - one day. It may not be in my lifetime or the next, but it will come to pass. Someone with skin of my color and skin of your color will understand one another. Entirely and for eternity.